Perhaps it was fitting that it was the Tochigi Brex hoisting the first B. League championship trophy at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Saturday evening.
Tochigi was founded in 2006 and started as a JBL second-division club from the 2006-07 season. Being a purely professional club, it competed against teams with the financial backing of major companies like Toyota, Mitsubishi and Panasonic during its days in the company team-oriented JBL and NBL.
While Tochigi has managed to fare well, the amount of money in the franchise’s bank account has never been an advantage.
But they do have one advantage they’re proud of: their fans and the energy they provide.
And the Brex, who finished with the B. League’s second-best record during the regular season at 46-14, believe that genuinely factored into their championship run.
After Brex’s 85-79 victory over the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the B. League final, their president and general manager Shingo Kamata said they were able to grab the title because of their loyal fans, who occupied 70 percent of Yoyogi National Gymnasium and were easy to spot in their yellow, Brex-colored T-shirts.
“We played at home in the quarterfinals and semifinals (of the playoffs) and many of our fans came out for today’s final,” Kamata said. “With the being said, we continuously received encouragement from our fans.”
The Brex aren’t the richest team financially, but they have one of the best fanbases in Japanese basketball. Their home games have always been filled with Brex fanatics, as the club has been tireless in its efforts to attract them to games, which in turn has also helped the bottom line financially.
The Chiba Jets had the highest average attendance at 4,503 and Tochigi was behind them with 3,356 in the regular season. But the latter’s main arena, Brex Arena Utsunomiya, holds around 3,000 people while the capacity for the Jets’ main gym, Funabashi Arena, is about 4,300.
But in terms of fan quality, and the atmosphere they create inside their own house, there is no argument the Brex are one of the top teams.
“Throughout the 10 years (since the team was formed), our fans have really become more knowledgeable,” Kamata, 39, said with a smile. “They now know when to boo and know how to cheer better.”
Interestingly, Kamata insisted that the quality of their fans and the great atmosphere at their home games have helped make the Brex as good as they are today, even without a big budget to use to acquire better players.
“What we do is, we invite players we want to sign, including rookies, to our home games and let them feel the mood at our games,” said Kamata, a former player for the Otsuka Corporation Alphas who took over as club president in 2012. “Once they get to see it, some of them say that they want to play there.
“So as the GM, I really feel that it’s a plus for us.”
Kamata also said his team tries to only sign players who agree to its team-first philosophy.
“We have (Yuta) Tabuse and he teaches his teammates the importance of playing as a team, saying that you’ve got to play for your teammates rather than for yourself,” said Kamata, a Tokyo native. “And when we negotiate with new players, we would like to actually sign players who understand that.”